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NORTH SIOUX CITY -- The North Sioux City Fire Department expects to begin providing 24/7 paramedic care later this month, completing a nearly year-long transition in emergency medical service providers.

Over the past four months, the department has hired four full-time paramedics and a handful of part-timers to bring medical care to the Dakota Valley Emergency Services District, which encompasses approximately 25 square miles including North Sioux City, Dakota Dunes, Wynstone and McCook Lake.

The district passed a $500,000 opt-out in early July that will supply the necessary funding through property taxes.

The bulked-up department will be the area’s solution to filling the void in paramedic service left by Siouxland Paramedics Inc., which had provided basic and advanced emergency care to the area for more than 30 years before running into financial difficulties. The nonprofit announced last August it would back out of providing the service to Dakota Valley and Sioux City and cease providing paramedic assistance throughout the Siouxland region.

"We felt it was important to continue that level (of care)," said Aaron Tyler, president of the Dakota Valley district's board.

In the months that followed, Tyler and the other directors worked through possible alternatives. They took bids from private agencies, but those came in too high.

At the beginning of 2018, the department signed an agreement with Sioux City Fire Rescue's new paramedic division to provide paramedic service, with the ultimate goal to staff its own 24/7 paramedic division within the year. North Sioux City also licensed its own ambulance to allow the volunteer fire department to begin providing basic level care on its own.

In April, the department hired lead paramedic Mark Nickles, who had worked in Yankton as a paramedic for several years and also served with Siouxland Paramedics. Nickles worked on putting together the protocols, equipment and other necessary elements. The department hired its fourth and final full-time paramedic in July. It will also have a handful of part-time paramedics.

North Sioux City currently staffs one paramedic per day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and expects to switch to full-time later in the month. 

Due to state budget restraints, the move required passage of the $500,000 opt-out in July in order to raise taxes to fund the new positions.

Dakota Valley board treasurer Dennis Melstad said the opt-out will add an estimated 59 cents per $1,000 of valuation, or $59 on a property valued at $100,000, using current taxable values. 

The opt-out will kick in when residents pay taxes in 2019. The district will only levy what it needs in a given year, meaning the amount property owners pay will decrease in the event the full $500,000 is not needed. Melstad said he was still working on the exact amount for the upcoming budget but doubted the district would require the full half-million.

"We do not believe we’re going to take the full opt-out for 2019," Melstad said. "We did the $500,000 just to have it available."

The funding will cover salaries and medical supplies. The department has ordered a second ambulance. 

Dakota Valley's switch has come during a busy year: North Sioux fire chief Bill Pappas said as of mid-July, the department was on track for more than 600 calls, compared with 450 to 500 the past few years.

Nickles said he expects the importance of the service to grow, as it serves a district with a major medical area in Dakota Dunes and growing industry in North Sioux City. 

"Our district is growing, with more housing developments going up and more businesses moving in," he said. "We're going to get bigger with more people coming in."

Copyright 2018 The Sioux City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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City hall reporter

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